5 Ways to Observe Veterans Day

Two students sitting at a table. A teacher is leaning over one student's shoulder and pointing at a computer screen.

Commemorate Veterans Day with CommonLit

Veterans Day, a public American holiday, occurs annually on November 11th, celebrating the contributions of the U.S. Armed Forces. Originally called Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I, Veterans Day has existed in its current form since 1954.

In order to give students some insight into war and the role(s) of soldiers, we’ve compiled a variety of texts: from informational pieces on United States’ origins, to interviews with war heroes, to texts on the physical and mental consequences that soldiers often endure during and after their service. There is a lot to teach surrounding Veterans Day, so we’ve also grouped these texts to help frame your lesson:

  • The Wars of Our Veterans
  • Female and Minority Veterans
  • The War Effort at Home
  • Returning From War
  • Striving for Peace

Pick and choose texts from the five categories listed above to give your students a glimpse into the complexities of war, peace, and everything in between:

The Wars of Our Veterans

These texts give background information on some of the major wars of the 20th century, the century in which Veterans Day was created.

To the Front Lines: America in World War I” by USHistory.org

Grades 11–12

Two American soldiers running toward a bunker.
“Two American soldiers run towards a bunker” by H.D. Girdwood is in the public domain.

This text discusses American neutrality and isolationist tendencies leading up to the First World War, as well as how Americans helped win World War I.

In addition, use the Crash Course video “America in World War I” to give your students more detail about American involvement.

Introduction to World War II” by USHistory.org

Grades 9–10

A group of soldiers in a boat.
“Approaching Omaha” by Taak is in the public domain.

Use this text to provide your students with background information on World War II and what some historians believe led to the start of the fighting.

Following the reading, pose these questions to your students: In the context of this informational text, how are we changed by war? How was America changed by its involvement in WWI? What were some of the lasting effects or changes due to WWII?

Introduction to the Vietnam War” by USHistory.org

Grades 9–10

A group of soldiers in tall grass.
“U.S. Marines in Operation Allen Brook in 1968” by U.S. Marines (Official Marine Corps Photo #371490) is in the public domain.

Give your students an introduction to some perspectives of the Vietnam War with this informational text.

Afterward, have your students write a short paper addressing the following question: Based on your reading of the Vietnam War, what do you think is the role of media in influencing public opinion?

Female and Minority Veterans

Today, there are many women and people of color serving in the U.S. Army. However, not too long ago, these folks were not allowed to enlist and faced unfair, unequal treatment. The texts below detail some of the veterans who broke down these barriers.

Tuskegee Airmen” by Jessica McBirney

Grades 9–10

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African American fighter pilots and bomber pilots, including their support crew, who flew for the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. Despite facing racial discrimination, they complete their missions, which were some of the most successful in the American military.

Take time to discuss the Airmen’s motivations for serving, considering their treatment while serving their country.

A group of pilots standing in front of a warplane.
“Eight Tuskegee Airmen in front of a P-40 fighter aircraft” by Signaleer is in the public domain.

"First Female Army Rangers Say They Thought of ‘Future Generations of Women" by Brakkton Booker

Grades 7–8

In 2015, Shaye Haver and Kristen Griest became the first two women to graduate from the United States Army Ranger School. Women historically have been restricted to wartime support roles, such as serving as nurses and aides, but now they are gaining access to direct combat positions.

Pair this text with “Rosie the Riveter” and ask students to discuss how women’s roles in the military have evolved over time. How do students think Kristen Griest’s and Shaye Haver’s actions have contributed to the public’s views on women’s roles in the military?

Two female soldiers in uniform.
“AFB_5665” by West Point: The U.S. Military Academy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Serving With the Women’s Army Corps: An Interview with Wilma Hugunin” by the Veterans History Project

Grades 7–8

Wilma Hugunin joined the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and served in the Women’s Air Force; she inspired other women to enlist. In this interview, Hugunin discusses what motivated her to join the Women’s Army Corps, as well as her contributions to the war efforts.

The War Effort at Home

For many Americans, the effects of overseas wars is also felt in the States — and for decades following the war as well. In the texts below, people unable to participate in combat roles found other ways to contribute to the war effort.

The Poppy Lady” by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh

Grades 5–6

A black and white photo of a young girl selling poppies to an older man. The poppies are red.
“A young girl sells poppies in the early 1930s. “ by Collections of the Historical Society of Princeton is licensed under Used with permission.

Moina Belle Michael (1869–1944) was an American teacher who was known widely as the “Poppy Lady.” Michael created a movement that brought millions of dollars of donations to American and English veterans and established the poppy as a memorial flower.

Use the clip “Armistice Day London: Poppies Honor WWII Soldiers” to show students what Michael’s initiative has achieved.

A Flag that Honors War Veterans” by Shawn E. Hanscom

Grades 5–6

A line of service flags.
“101112-N-5586R-006” by U.S. Pacific Fleet is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

This text details how the first Service Flag was created by an Army captain who invented a symbol for his sons that everyone could see. Now, the flag is used to honor soldiers in war.

Pose this question to your students: How does the Service Flag help families with loved ones in the military express themselves?

Returning From War

Combat veterans often face a particularly daunting set of challenges upon returning home from war, which may include psychiatric conditions, unemployment, a lack of access to healthcare, or any number of other issues.

The two texts below depict two soldiers’ stories of returning to the United States post-conflict. After reading the accounts, take time with your students to discuss the importance of both mental and physical health.

Behind Bars, Vets with PTSD Face a New War Zone, With Little Support” by Quil Lawrence

Grades 9–10

David Carson, a veteran of the Iraq war, spends most of his time in jail or treatment centers. The Department of Veterans Affairs and his family attribute this to his debilitating PTSD — along with a severe lack of resources for veterans.

To provide some context, you can show your students the short film “PTSD — The War at Home”. You can start a discussion, based on your students needs and experiences, that touch on the following: In what ways are military personnel members especially vulnerable to PTSD, and in what ways might seeking treatment be particularly difficult for this population? How does this video add to the views of combat and PTSD presented in the article?

For Many Returning Vets, ‘Moral Injury’ Just as Difficult” by Rachel Martin (Host)

Grades 9–10

In 2013, Timothy Kudo, a former Marine captain, wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post about grappling with “moral injury” as a veteran who has killed during wartime. In this article, Kuda shares his experience with NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin.

After reading, ask your students whether or not they think it is important to listen to the stories of war veterans. Why? What can they teach us?

Striving for Peace

One cannot discuss war and the efforts of veterans without discussing peace, one of the reasons why so many veterans have fought. The texts below describe those who have historically advocated for peace.

Resistance to the Vietnam War” by Jessica McBirney

Grades 9–10

Students holding signs with messages protesting the Vietnam War.
“Student Vietnam War Protesters” by UW Digital Collections is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The United States government entered the Vietnam War because they believed their involvement was the only way to prevent communism from spreading in the region. However, the war was largely unpopular with Americans citizens. Many believed it was unfair, unnecessary, and unjustifiable.

Discuss the methods of protest with your students. Can all of the actions taken by the protestors be justified? Why or why not?

“Duty, Honor, Country Address at West Point” by General Douglas MacArthur

Grades 9–10

Soldiers and General Douglas MacArthur wading through water.
“General Douglass MacArthur Wades Ashore” by Marion Doss is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964) was an American five-star general who played a prominent role in the Pacific theater campaign during World War II. From 1919–1922, MacArthur served as the Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. On May 12, 1962, MacArthur delivered this speech to the cadets at West Point.

In his speech, MacArthur declares “the soldier above all other people prays for peace” and quotes Plato, stating that “only the dead have seen the end of war.” Have your students discuss these quotes and the relationship between war and peace. Do they agree with MacArthur? Is war justified in pursuit of peace?

“Jimmy Carter’s Nobel Lecture” by Jimmy Carter

Grades 11–12

Former President Jimmy Carter standing at a podium.
“Secretary General Takes Part in Moderated Conversation with ex President Carter” by OEA — OAS is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Following his presidency, Jimmy Carter set up the Carter Center with the goals of advancing human rights and combating human suffering. In 2002, Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work promoting international peace.

After reading Carter’s speech, ask your students the following: In the context of the speech, how does Carter suggest the United States contribute to securing international peace? In the time that has passed since Carter gave this speech, do you think the United States has come closer to achieving what Carter wanted? Why or why not?

Next Steps

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